Manchester City has claimed the first prize in its quest for the quadruple.
Raheem Sterling scored the winning penalty as City beat Chelsea 4-3 in a shootout to win the English Football League Cup final, which had gone scoreless through regulation and extra time.
Right before the shootout, Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to be substituted by manager Maurizio Sarri, an act of insubordination you rarely, if ever, see at this level, especially in such a big spot.
After the match, Sarri downplayed the tension.
“It was a big misunderstanding,” he said. “I wanted (backup Willy) Caballero on the pitch but [Kepa] wanted to let me know he was in condition to go to the penalties. It was a misunderstanding. Kepa was right, but in the wrong way he conducted himself.”
Arrizabalaga, who goes by “Kepa”, attempted to explain himself as well:
This marks the first trophy for City this campaign, and the club is still alive for three others, sitting one point behind Premier League leaders Liverpool and having made the knockout stages of the Champions League and quarterfinals of the FA Cup.
Since England plays two domestic cups instead of one, the idea of a “quadruple” has been romanticized for decades, but no side has come closer than Manchester United in 1998-1999, when the Red Devils won everything except the League Cup.
Sunday’s shootout had City’s bid on the edge of a knife, every spot kick threatening to end it before it really started. With things all square after three rounds, Chelsea’s David Luiz stung the post with a line drive, and after Bernardo Silva and Eden Hazard both made their kicks, Sterling seized his opportunity:
Raheem Sterling’s penalty sealed the deal for Manchester City! pic.twitter.com/zFNiQx16sO
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 24, 2019
If City goes on to make history, the match will be remembered primarily as the catalyst. As it stands, it will be remembered for Chelsea’s blatant dysfunction.
In the second period of extra time, Kepa appeared to injure his hand in a scrum for a loose ball. When Sarri prepared to bring on Caballero a few minutes later, Kepa became defiant and continuously gestured to the sidelines that he was fine to continue.
The pictures of the incident are truly worth a thousand words.
It’s perhaps the worst look for Sarri in a debut season chock full of challenges to his authority. Sarri’s thinking was sound; Kepa seemed hurt, and Caballero has saved 11 of 28 penalties in his career and won the League Cup for Manchester City three years ago by stopping three Liverpool shots in a shootout.
But after extended gesticulating between manager and keeper, Kepa stayed on and Sarri went back to the bench, visibly frustrated.
Crazy scenes at Wembley!
Maurizio Sarri tried to bring on Caballero for Kepa Arrizabalaga, who simply refused to leave the field. pic.twitter.com/PI3E7rWqE0
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 24, 2019
The fallout was felt most when Kepa failed to stop Sergio Aguero’s relatively tame penalty in the shootout, letting the shot bound underneath his hand. After the match, Caballero’s disappointment was visible.
It was just one of several identities the match took on. Having lost 6-0 to City in the Premier League two Sundays ago, the Blues spent the afternoon playing more cautiously – which as it turns out, played right into their hands.
In terms of set-up and strategy, Chelsea has always been comfortable as a rich club pretending to be a poor club, lurking back to prioritize clean sheets over wild forays forward. That’s not the style of Sarri, which is one of the reasons the club appears to be regressing under his watch, but it’s a style that proved largely effective against City on Sunday.
Unless you’re one of a handful of clubs on the planet, you simply don’t dictate terms to City as presently constituted. Pep Guardiola’s side is too complete, too talented, too fermenting with threat for you to be breakneck in a final. Chelsea’s experience absorbing pressure and thundering on opportunistic counters weathered City’s approach until it looked like the Blues were more likely to score over the final 15 minutes or so of regulation.
Still, you can only limit Manchester City so much. Aguero had a goal taken off the board after a lengthy Video Assistant Referee review in the 56th minute, and if he was offside, it was by the thinnest of margins:
The victory earns City its fourth League Cup in six seasons, but it may prove costly as midfield fulcrum Fernandinho and first-choice defender Aymeric Laporte both limped off due to injury and could miss a few weeks. Fernandinho’s impact might be missed in particular, as Guardiola has gone so far as to call his presence “irreplaceable.”
Injury spells are one thing that can box in City’s pursuit of the quadruple. For now, the first box has been checked.
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